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Wendy’s: overly clever marketing, jargon causing confusion

Wendy’s has been an inspiration to businesses for revamping their company from the ground up this year, but with one clever coupon that has gone viral, they’ve proven that a simple marketing message can cause confusion, and possibly brand damage.



There is such a thing as too clever

Wendy’s is a top brand in America, recognizable to all passerby, and the company has not only undergone a revamping of their store interiors, menus, and ingredients, but has even interviewed every staff member, retaining only the top, committed talent. The brand has served as an inspiration to companies of all sizes to shed dead weight and put forward their best efforts only, seeking to be best in brand.

Additionally, the Wendy’s marketing department has always been a clever bunch, and the company has a silly tone at times. “Sit next to the choking poster,” one ad says, featuring a giant burger. Clever. Creative. Memorable.

But this week, a coupon was circulated that had consumers flocking to the internet to ask what it meant. Perhaps it was too clever, snarky, and trying to be memorable:

A redhead? Does she clean your house, or what?

A redhead? Is that a doll? A person who Wendy’s will send to your house to clean or maybe be your comedic best friend? Is it a head of cheese that has been dyed red? Or is Wendy’s engaging in human trafficking?

The last question was very seriously asked by many consumers, particularly on web community Reddit, where the coupon was originally shared before it went viral online. Fortunately, there was a small minority that understood that “redhead” is slang for coffee, but it wasn’t immediately apparent, nor would it be to most people that get a coupon like this in a flyer or in their mailbox.

It is easy to forget as a professional that your industry jargon is not commonly understood outside of your industry, but moreover, there is such a thing as being too clever. Marketing departments are made up of many people, and something like this should have been caught by at least one person not willing to take the risk of being too clever.

The lesson for businesses of all sizes

This will be an easy fix for Wendy’s, as the brand can simply offer an explanation online, and they will likely spin it into an entire campaign to teach the world what a “small hot original redhead” is rather than slinking into the shadows. The terminology will likely appear in television, print and web ads in an effort to eliminate its use as internal or industry jargon, rather make it widespread, so there is no harm, no foul.

In some businesses, the owner (maybe you) wear many hats, including marketing, so it is always a good idea to ask for input on marketing messages, especially when attempting humor, because sometimes humor makes you look like you’re offering a coupon in exchange for a human trafficking victim, and confusion can do more damage than having an ad that is not clever. Wendy’s has the budget and size to insert the phrase into the American lexicon, but if your brand does not, you may reconsider the clever approach – don’t avoid it, but do screen it, even by asking family or friends to look at it before it goes to print.

AGBeat has reached out to Wendy’s to verify this coupon.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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  1. Wendys1

    May 18, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Yea – we goofed that one good, huh? Our mistake, and we’re fixing for future efforts!
    If you have Wendy’s breakfast in your area, odds are you have Redhead Roasters, our new coffee. See if a store near you has breakfast at

  2. mnixon

    May 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I’m sorry. I, personally, have never heard the term redhead meant for coffee. However, I’m also a grown adult with common sense.
    Are there really people out there who think human trafficking is so widely accepted that a national fast food chain would overtly engage in this activity? And, offer a coupon??
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the ad or the coupon. I think there’s something GROSSLY wrong with the fact that society has to tip toe past these morons who refuse to use common sense. And, quite honestly, I think calling them out for “making a mistake” just fuels the stupidity fire.

    • mnixon

      May 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Just to clarify my last sentence. I think calling Wendy’s out for making a mistake fuels the stupidity fire.

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Business Marketing

Instagram’s false information flagging may accidentally shut down artists

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Instagram is doing its hardest to insure no false information gets released wide, but the net they cast may catch a lot of artists who manipulate images.



technically a false image

Instagram’s new update is hiding faked images. The downside? Posts by digital artists are being swept up in this new flagging system. In December, Instagram announced the release of a false information warning in order to combat the spread of misinformation on the platform.

How does this work? Content that is rated as partly false or false by a third-party fact-checker is removed from Instagram’s Explore option and matching hashtag pages. Additionally, the image will receive a label to warn viewers about its credibility with a link back to the fact-checker and further sources that debunk the visual claims in the image. These labels can be seen on profiles, feeds, DMs, and stories. Identical content from Facebook will be automatically labelled if posted to Instagram.

Digital artists are feeling the effects of Instagram’s update as digitally-altered images for the sake of artistic expression are being slapped with the misinformation label. The good news, however, is that not all photoshopped images are in danger—only the pictures that have gone viral attached to false information and identified as such.

So if an artist manipulates an image, releases it, then someone else decides to use the altered image to spread misinformation, the artists image could be labeled as misinformation and will be hidden from the Explore and hashtag pages. The artist pays the price for someone else spreading false information.

While a label will save a viewer from questioning a post, digital artists, whose careers depend upon visibility and the spread of the work are likely to feel the effects—whether it be scroll-frenzied viewers passing their work by, deterred by the label barring the post from a quick look, or even worse, the artists having their own credibility called into question.

With only a couple of weeks into the new year, it’s yet to be seen how other digital art may (or may not) be caught up in Instagram’s well-meaning update.

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Business Marketing

How becoming better listeners eliminates our culture’s growing isolation

(BUSINESS MARKETING) We have all be frustrated by someone who doesn’t listen to us; so why not make sure that you are taking the steps to not be them, and be better listeners.



good listeners breed good listeners

We all want the same thing: to be heard. In this digital age, we’ve created an endless stream of cries for attention via comment sections, forums, and social media feeds—shares, retweets, tags, videos, articles, and photos. Worse, our words echo in our digital bubbles or specific communities, doing nothing but making us lonely and isolated. However, in the midst of a divided political climate, we can all stand to strengthen our ability to listen.

Me? A bad listener? What are you trying to say? I got enough flaws to worry about and don’t wanna hear about another skill to improve. Oh, the irony.

“Bad listeners are not necessarily bad people,” assures Kate Murphy in her new book You’re Not Listening. “Anyone can get good at it. The more people you talk to, the better your gut instinct. You’re able to pick up those little cues. Without them, you’re not going to get the full context and nuance of the conversation,” she says in an interview with The Guardian’s Stephen Moss.

Our bad listening aside, we can all remember a time when we weren’t treated with the attention we craved. Moments where you’d do anything for the person you’re conversing with to give a sign of understanding—of empathy—to validate our feelings, to acknowledge the vulnerable piece of ourselves we’ve entrusted to them is cared for. Nothing is worse when we’re met with blank expressions and dismissive gestures or words. These interactions make us feel small and lonely. And the damage can stay with us.

So what can we do to ensure we’re the listeners we’ve always wanted from others? Being a good listener does take time, energy, and tons of practice. There are easy tips to keep in mind:

1. Show you care by making eye contact and putting away your phone.
2. Patience. Everyone opens up on their time.
3. Ask open-ended questions. Yes/no responses inhibit the flow of conversation.
4. Repeat what you’ve heard. This clarifies any misunderstanding and validates the speaker.
5. Give space. Let the conversation breathe—silent pauses are healthy.

By becoming better listeners, we show care. We become curious about and empathetic towards others, leaving our bubbles—we become a little less lonely.

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Business Marketing

How many hours of the work week are actually efficient?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Working more for that paycheck, more hours each week, on the weekends, on holidays can actually hurt productivity. So don’t do that, stay efficient.



work week rush

With the new decade comes the renewed resolutions. Social media has been flooded with promises to get in shape, eat healthier and…hustle?

In hustle culture, it seems as though there’s no such thing as too much work. Nights, weekends and holidays are really just more time to be pushing towards your dreams and hobbies are just side hustles waiting to be monetized. Plus, with freelancing on the rise, there really is nothing stopping someone from making the most out of their 24 hours.

Hustle culture will have you believe that a full-time job isn’t enough. Is that true?

Although it’s a bit outdated, Gallup’s 2014 report on full-time US workers gives us an alarming glimpse into the effects of the hustle. For starters, 50% of full-time workers reported working over 40 hours a week – in fact, the average weekly hours for salaried employees was up to 49 hours.

So, what’s the deal with 40 hours anyway? The 40 hour work-week actually started with labor rights activists in the 1800s pushing for an 8 hour workday. In 1817, Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, reasoned this workday provided: “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

If you do the math, that’s a whopping 66% of the day devoted to personal needs, rather than labor!

Of course, it’s only natural to be skeptical of logic from two centuries ago coloring the way we do business in the 21st century. For starters, there’s plenty of labor to be done outside of the labor you’re paid to do. Meal prep, house cleaning, child care…that’s all work that needs to be done. It’s also all work that some of your favorite influencers are paying to get done while they pursue the “hustle.” For the average human, that would all be additional work to fall in the ‘recreation’ category.

But I digress. Is 40 hours a week really enough in the modern age? After all, average hours in the United States have increased.

Well…probably not. In fact, when hours are reduced (France, for instance, limited maximum hours to 35 hours a week, instead of 40), workers are not only more likely to be healthier and happier, but more efficient and less likely to miss work!

So, instead of following through with the resolution to work more this year, maybe consider slowing the hustle. It might actually be more effective in the long run!

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